Mental And Physical Effect Of Food Insecurity

By Odalys Quito and Saloni Shah

Food insecurity is the lack of food access based on financial and other resources. Being in a food desert and experiencing food insecurity are two different situations, but there are programs that offer help. Although, programs may help with obtaining food for those who are struggling, the consequences of food insecurity can be long term. The consequences not only affect adults, but children as well. Those consequences can lead to long term effects unless helped within time.

A functioning society is one which, as the world states, functions as a result of having several interrelated parts working together. In such a society, one must be able to achieve basic requirements. Experiencing hunger is an unfortunate situation that many individuals are experiencing throughout the city of Trenton and Mercer County in New Jersey.

The food insecurity level in New Jersey was 12.7 percent overall and 19 percent for children. According to New Jersey Anti-hunger Coalition (NJHAC), there 394,240 children were living in food insecure households. It affects the population negatively because those affected will function on an unhealthy diet.  

Lia Pitz, the Program Director of Advocacy, set goals and their sole mission is to reach out to individuals to educate them about hunger in New Jersey. She is part of a team that represents NJHAC. NJHAC is program that works to end hunger in New Jersey through advocacy, activism and education.

“I have had the pleasure to meet some wonderful people as the program’s advocate,” said Pitz.  “I’ve also seen and heard of the effects that food insecurity can and will have on people.”

Splashy Flowers by Paul Norris
Splashy Flowers by Paul Norris

NJHAC has been working hard since 1980 to educate the public about the effects of hunger and what can be done to help relieve hunger in the communities. In Trenton, the program is helping schools by providing them with free breakfast and lunches.

“Children are the future, but many will not thrive if they are not being fed,” her voice saddened a little. “There is a correlation between the behavior of children, hunger and poverty. They are more likely to act out in school when living in a food insecurity household.”

Also, the program is in partnership with Rutgers University, in order to expand its message through students.

“I love this program for what it is trying to accomplish,” said Pitz. “Yes, we do work in Trenton. We’re affiliated with Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. What we do is advocate those living in food insecurity of what the solutions are. They need to know that there is hope and that there are programs to help.”

The children of Trenton are experiencing hunger, which is affecting their school work and the adults will start to experience the consequences when working. Studies have shown that teenagers, between the ages of 13-18, will be twice as likely to have emotional problems or to instigate problems. This is due to the child experiencing stress because they do not know where their next meal will come, which, in turn, affects them. Proper diet is not only beneficial for better physical health, but for mental as well. Getting the proper nutrients in the body will excel the minds of many upcoming generations.

On the other hand, the parents experience stress, because they do not have the money to invest into proper food for their family. Essentially when given the choice to invest in $10 worth of fries and burgers versus $10 worth of veggies that barely feeds one person, many tend to choose something that is filling instead of looking at the labels for nutrition benefits. It’s a vicious cycle that will not be stopped unless help is sought.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that mental problems in teenager has increased due to living in a food insecurity household. A study by Elservier stated, “The study found that a one standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14 percent increased odds of past-year mental disorder among adolescents, even after controlling for poverty and numerous other indicators of socioeconomic status.”

Evidence for exposure to many vegetables and fruits in growing children has not been found since money is an issue. Fortunately, there are programs that offer aid, such as Mercer Street Friends.

Mercer Street Friends is multi-faceted human service agency located on Mercer Street. The agency’s purpose is to help communities and families out of poverty. The program was founded in 1958 when a few individuals were worried about Trenton’s increase of poverty and the impact it would have on it’s residents. They will help those living in poverty or with food insecurity by providing resources, food and aid.

Hunger is branched off from poverty or lack of finance and an article written by Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed columnist who speaks about the progress of poverty. He begins the article in words of Reagan, “We fought war on poverty, and poverty won.”

Then Kristof states that children should be a priority when saving people from poverty. Children should be helped first because the consequences of poverty will lead to crime, unemployment and lack of education. He further explains that a child’s mental health will also be affected, due the stress that poverty puts on children and on their parents. Their performance in school and in life will be impaired due to mental health. Kristof looks down upon our nation and how it could have let its children experience poverty for 50 years.

Children and their parents are the ones who will be affected the most. Children are the future and should be the first to be aided in. Families should not be ashamed to admit that they are living in food insecurity and reach out. Programs and agency are waiting to assist the people in need and will welcome anyone with open arms.